Goodwill Northern Michigan Helps Homeless Find Home

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Currently, there are about 225 people, including dozens of children, who are experiencing homelessness in Northern Michigan. As winter approaches, homelessness in Northern Michigan becomes an even more critical concern. But there is a solution to homelessness: Providing housing. Goodwill Northern Michigan is working together with its partners to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in our region.

Goodwill Northern Michigan has been working since 1986 to support people experiencing homelessness in Northern Michigan. The organization offers several community programs to support individuals and families as they work to end their homelessness and collaborates with other ongoing partners in the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness to help them find safe, secure housing.

Goodwill Northern Michigan’s programs to help people experiencing homelessness are varied and many. They include Street Outreach, which provides support to people experiencing unsheltered homelessness wherever they are; that support includes immediate assistance and services. In addition, Goodwill offers emergency and transitional housing through the Goodwill Inn in Traverse City, a year-round emergency shelter, and the Patriot Place, a transitional housing community for veterans in Gaylord. Goodwill Northern Michigan works with Safe Harbor, a non-profit organization comprised of local churches, providing trained professional staff to help volunteers at the emergency overnight shelter (only open during the winter). Goodwill Northern Michigan is also operating a day shelter at Safe Harbor to allow people who are street homeless to warm up, shower, do laundry, charge their phones and receive health support during the coldest hours of the day.

Goodwill Northern Michigan walks with people experiencing homelessness on their journey to finding a home, providing programs like Street Outreach, the Goodwill Inn and Patriot Place and working with partners at the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness.

Additionally, Goodwill provides permanent supportive housing for families and individuals facing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence. Case managers help tenants maintain stable housing by providing support and access to community services.

“People don’t want to be homeless,” says Ryan Hannon, Street Outreach Manager for Goodwill Northern Michigan. “I never met anyone who chose to be homeless. Everyone’s situation is different. A lot of people we work with have jobs. They don’t make enough money to meet all their needs. Some do not have the resources of family and friends to help them out. Some have disabilities. Some have mental issues. Some are living on disability income and that might be $750 a month. It’s really hard to live off that if you don’t have support or others to help you get by.”

As Goodwill’s street outreach manager, Hannon works daily to help people experiencing unsheltered homelessness exactly where they are: on the streets, in the woods, under bridges, in alleys. He seeks them out and works to connect them with any immediate resources or services they need, with the ultimate goal of securing permanent shelter. Hannon also is a part of Street Medicine, a partnership between Goodwill Northern Michigan’s Street Outreach and the Traverse Health Clinic. Hannon works with medical professionals to bring medicine and health care to those in need where they are—in the woods, their cars, on the streets.

You can help Goodwill Northern Michigan continue its many programs for those experiencing homelessness with a donation. Go to goodwillnmi.org.

Goodwill Northern Michigan

People facing homelessness always need health support. The pandemic has sped up Street Outreach’s collaboration with Traverse Health Clinic, taking medical care into shelters and anywhere people are to get them the information and help they need.

Largely invisible to the public, people experiencing homelessness live in the nooks and crannies of Traverse City, in make-shift encampments in woods, tents, sheds, campers in the woods or in their cars, parking somewhere new every night. They also stay in shelters throughout the region. Other communities have their own resources, such as Cadillac’s New Hope Center, a shelter that serves individuals and families. The Goodwill Inn in Traverse City is open seven days a week, year-round. The Women’s Resource Center offers shelter for survivors of domestic violence.

The reasons people end up homeless are many. Most have experienced significant trauma. Some have disabilities or mental health issues. Some find themselves in unexpected financial distress. Many are fleeing unsafe home situations like domestic abuse. Many are working but can’t afford the high cost of rent in the region. All face major hurdles in finding safe, secure, permanent places to live.

The major roadblock to finding secure homes for people experiencing homelessness is the lack of affordable housing in the Traverse City region. Thirty to 35 percent of the homeless staying at the Goodwill Inn, a year-round emergency shelter operated by Goodwill, are working, says Dan Buron, executive director of Goodwill Northern Michigan. Some of them are “working in the health-care field, helping individuals who are sick in long-term care and they’re homeless themselves,” he says.

Recently, Goodwill Northern Michigan and its partners in the Coalition to End Homelessness launched a 100 Day Challenge to place 20 families in housing within 100 days. The effort is a collaboration with property developers, apartment complexes, landlords and homeowners to address the disproportionate risk the homeless face during a public health crisis like COVID-19. Among other things, the pandemic has limited occupancy at Goodwill’s temporary shelter and at Safe Harbor and other area shelters.

A big part of the 100 Day Challenge is incentivizing landlords to rent units to the homeless. New landlords willing to work with the program are eligible for a $1,000 lease signing bonus. Additionally, families who get housing through the program receive rental assistance and comprehensive in-home case management support services. The goal is to help families become successful tenants and provide a sense of security with the new tenants for the landlords.

“A lot of times landlords don’t realize there is a program behind the person or the family,” Buron says. We work with families and individuals to be good tenants. We want them to be successful tenants. Our best benefit to them is to help them not lose their housing.”

Two-thirds of the way through the 100-Day Challenge, 14 families had found safe and secure housing. One recipient was a large family who was able to move from a leaky camper into their own multi-bedroom apartment.

“It will take the support of the entire community to expand housing options in our region. We’re grateful to work with our partners in the Coalition, and we’re thankful for the landlords and ADU owners who have risen to the 100 Day Challenge,” Buron says. “We want the landlords to be happy. We want them to say this has been a good experience. We want to get more people into housing. We don’t want them on the streets or at the Inn.”

Patriot Place provides a housing community to veterans facing homelessness, specifically designed with the supports they need to transition to their own home.

While educating landlords about the community’s needs and the program’s benefits has proven effective, says Ashley Halladay-Schmandt, director of the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness, it’s also important not to lose sight of why fighting homelessness is vital on the broader scale—and why the stakes are particularly high during COVID-19.

“Winter is going to be tough,” she says. “We’re seeing a spike in COVID locally. What this means is we need to work even harder as a collaborative, pooling our resources and investing in the resources we have toward permanent housing. We have a plan for the shelter, but what we need to really invest in is the end goal: permanent housing.”

While the 100 Day Challenge may have helped raise community awareness about the need for landlords and ADU owners, the challenge will continue.

Four years ago, Goodwill Northern Michigan developed Carson Square, a supportive housing community with 36 units in Traverse City. Goodwill worked with MSHDA to build the community, which provides families and individuals facing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence with case managers to help tenants maintain stable housing by providing regular support and access to community services.

“Carson Square has helped take people off the street into housing,” Buron says. “It’s helped the situation. We had an individual who had been on the street for more than 10 years get housing. We keep going back to the fact that there are a lot of things we can do to help make the system better, but in the end, we need to have more affordable housing. That’s not necessarily a new problem, but it is a challenge. It’s something we need to come to grips with.”

Meanwhile, Goodwill Northern Michigan and its partners will continue to work to end homelessness.

“This is a very desirable place to live. It’s not getting any less desirable or beautiful,” Halladay-Schmandt says. “But everyone who lives here deserves a home. We have resources and a system in place to help people. They don’t have to be homeless. The quicker we can get them out of homelessness, the more likely they’ll never experience it again.”

How you can help Goodwill Northern Michigan:
  • If you or someone you know is facing homelessness in Northwest Michigan, please call 1-844-900-0500 for housing assistance.
  • Landlords or ADU owners can call (231) 463-0201 or visit endhomelessnessnmi.org for more information on how they can provide rentals for people who need homes.
  • You can help Goodwill Northern Michigan continue its many programs for those experiencing homelessness with a donation. Go to goodwillnmi.org.
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